Red Raiders face Greater Johnstown in District Championship
By SHAREIK FLOWERS
BELLEFONTE- As the temperature steadily chills down, Bellefonte’s level of competition simultaneously heats up.
That’s what happens when you advance to the district title game.
The Red Raiders face the Greater Johnstown Trojans in what will be the team’s stiffest test this season. Johnstown boasts an 8-3 record this year, but that number is misleading. When studying game footage Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning sees an undefeated team.
“I am surprised that they have any losses, I really am,” Manning said.
Bellefonte prepared for tonight’s matchup by switching up its training routine this week.
Instead of conducting practices at Rogers Stadium–they traveled to Wingate to prepare on Alumni Stadium’s turf field.
“We’ve been going to Bald Eagle to practice on the turf,” Manning said. “We don’t get a lot of time on the turf. And with the weather , our practice field is shot.”
“Bald Eagle’s been awesome to allow us on there,” Manning added.
The Trojans are the most athletic team the Raiders have squared up with this season. Manning described them as a fast, good football team with playmakers up-and-down its roster.
Johnstown averages 33 points per game–and the offense offers a balanced dose of the run and ground game.
Johnstown’s also extremely fast–causing Manning to admit this is the first time this season his team is not the more athletic group on the gridiron.
” Typically, we’re the fastest team on the field, that’s not going to be the case this week,” he said. “I’m curious to see how we respond to that.”
One thing he’s unphased by is Johnstown’s quarterback Austin Barber. Not because Barber isn’t any good (because he certainly is), but because the Raider defense has experience against prolific quarterbacks.
The Raiders faced Clearfield’s Isaac Rumery last week, who entered that game with 31 touchdowns on the year. Barber doesn’t possess the same video-game numbers as Rumery, but he’s a threat whether he’s throwing or running the football.
“It’s the same as we had the last week,” Manning explained. “It’s one of those situations where it’s a fast, mobile quarterback who’s very accurate, who can throw the ball well on the run and create [big plays] with his legs.”
“Johnstown’s a great football team,” he added. “We have to play as close to our best to be in this football game.”
KEYS TO VICTORY
Bellefonte is a run-heavy team, but Manning doesn’t necessarily believe another strong-ground game will result in a win for Bellefonte. The Raiders are banking on a solid night from its special teams to contribute to a victory.
“I think special teams will have to play very, very well,” Manning explained. “We can’t allow a big play on the special teams, we just can’t do it.”
Bellefonte’s special teams unit needs to perform better than it did against Clearfield last week. The group missed two extra points in the game-which didn’t effect the outcome, but could be costly in the district championship.
“If our special teams can play even-up, and our defense can keep them under control, or at least make them work the field, I think we’ll have an opportunity to win the game.”
NUMBERS DON’T LIE
That’s the number of mutual opponents Bellefonte and Greater Johnstown shared this year.
The lack of a common foe has both teams entering the district championship with more questions than answers.
“We don’t have a common opponent, so I have no measuring stick to know what we’re getting into, and neither does Johnstown,” Manning explained. “We’re really both going into this a little bit blind, and it’ll play its self out quickly.”
The Raiders have tried to negate this by mixing up the run and passing game evenly in practice this week.
“I can tell you that we’ve worked on throwing the ball,” Manning said. “We’ve worked on running the ball, and we’ve tried to keep an even mix because we just don’t know what we’re totally getting into.”
BELLEFONTE WILL WIN IF
“We do not turn the football over, and we can run the football,” Manning said.
It’ll be a chilly one. Kickoff temperature in Hollidaysburg is expected to be around 30 degrees.